Tag Archives: education

Benicia Schools honor Ruby Bridges


From BeniciaBlackLivesMatter.com
[See also: About BBLM]

“Benicia Schools joined thousands of other schools around the country to commemorate and celebrate Ruby Bridges, who was one of the first African American children to attend an all white school in the segregated South.”

November 22, 2022
By Sheri Leigh, a member of Benicia Black Lives Matter

Last week, several of the Benicia Schools joined thousands of other schools around the country to commemorate and celebrate Ruby Bridges, who was one of the first African American children to attend an all white school in the segregated South.  This was the second year that any of our schools participated in this important event.  Last year, Benicia Black Lives Matters (BBLM) partnered with the PTA and the administration at Robert Semple Elementary School to hold the first march and celebration in Benicia to honor the young American heroine and her family for the brave decision to risk Ruby’s personal safety and comfort to help create a more equitable future for all American children.  Every student at Robert Semple was present for readings of Ruby Bridges books and Ms. Bridges’ letter to students.  The children were enrapt while listening to the readings and asked in depth questions about Ruby’s life. The event at Robert Semple was so moving and powerful that BBLM worked with the City and School District to make this an annual, City-wide event.

Ruby Bridges was born in 1954 during the middle of the Civil Rights Movement, shortly after , Brown v. The Board of Education was enacted.  The famous Supreme Court ruling declared that separate public schools for white children, from which children of color were banned, was unconstitutional.  The segregated schools had six years to integrate.  Many of the southern states were extremely resistant, waiting until the end of the transition period or until they were forced into compliance by the US government.

In 1960, young Ruby was living in New Orleans, Louisiana, which was one of the last southern areas to enforce the federal mandate of integrated schools.  As Ruby prepared to enter the first grade, her parents responded to a request from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and volunteered her to participate in the integration of the New Orleans schools.  With the intent of continuing to keep Black children out, the Orleans Parish School Board opted to administer a rigorous entrance exam at their all-white schools. Ruby was one of six Black children who passed the challenging admissions test.  Two of the other five children decided not to attend the soon to be integrated schools.  Three of the others were transferred to McDonogh Elementary, and Ruby was sent alone to William Frantz Elementary.

On Ruby’s first day of school, the white community and nearly all of the white families protested by pulling out their children from that school and/or by gathering at the school entrance to shout at and threaten the small girl and her escorts.  It was reported that Ruby conducted herself with dignity and stoicism.  She did not cringe or cry, but simply ignored the threats as she bravely walked into the building.  All but one teacher protested by refusing to teach.  Although most of the children and teachers eventually came back, Ruby was taught in class by herself for the first year by Barbara Henry, a teacher from Boston.

The impacts of her bravery were harsh on Ruby and her family.  Her father was dismissed from his job.  Stores refused to sell goods to the family.  Her grandparents in Mississippi lost their land.  Her parents, under extreme stress, eventually divorced.  But there was support as well.  One family in the community donated clothing and supplies to Ruby to help aid her success.  A local psychiatrist volunteered his time to provide Ruby with mental health support, and she remained strong and mentally sound despite the stress.

Today, Ruby Bridges (now Ruby Bridges Hall) still lives in New Orleans with her husband and sons.  She is an activist for tolerance and equity and the chair of the Ruby Bridges Foundation, which she formed in 1999 to promote “the values of tolerance, respect, and appreciation of all differences.” Describing the mission of the group, she says, “racism is a grown-up disease and we must stop using our children to spread it.”

On Monday, November 14, with the help and support of members from BBLM and the community, the Benicia City Schools organized walks, pledges, displays and in-school activities to commemorate the tremendous efforts that were made by Ruby Bridges and others to provide a safe, integrated and equitable education for all children in this country.  Robert Semple, Joe Henderson and several of our other schools participated with great enthusiasm.  Although some of our schools sadly minimized the activities or did not participate at all, this is a tremendous step Benicia Schools have made towards the recognition and celebration of the history of all our families.

If you would like more information about Ruby Bridges Day or the efforts of BBLM, please contact us through www.benicia blacklivesmatter.weebly.com

Previous ‘Our Voices’ stories here on the BenIndy at
Benicia Black Lives Matter – Our Voices
     or on the BBLM website at

Benicia Black Lives Matter – Reading to a child

Windows to a New World

Reading to a child. What could be a more magical way of learning for the child and a more gratifying experience to the reader? And what can be a more important way to introduce and connect children to things beyond their immediate world?

Benicia Black Lives Matter (BBLM) has been doing just that with pre-school level children in Benicia and Vallejo since January 2021 in our Preschool Reading Program. Using carefully screened and age appropriate literature, BBLM volunteers have been opening the minds and hearts of our preschoolers.

Once a month, volunteers go into different preschools to share a book and related activities carefully selected by the team to bring awareness of Black history, science, art, music, customs, culture, and daily lives, with the intent to plant seeds of humanity towards Black people as early as possible. And several of the preschools in this community embrace the opportunity to work with BBLM to bring the children a broader perspective and cultural understanding.

The books used are reviewed and offered by Roselind Johnson, the owner of Ethnic Notions, a gift and bookstore and art gallery located in Vallejo. Ms. Johnson is an expert in Black literature and the arts. At Ethnic Notions, she stocks a wealth of material on Black culture for people of all ages, including for a very young audience.

The books for the preschools are selected upon the seasonal influences within that month, much like the other books traditionally read to young children throughout the year, except that these books are chosen specifically to uplift and amplify historical and contemporary Black life. This helps young children of all races understand and accept that we are all different in some ways and the same in others. And a copy of the monthly book is donated to each participating school.

Some of the books that have been introduced include:

      • Rosa Parks
      • Nana Akua
      • If You Give Me Some Apples
      • MLK
      • Trombone Shorty
      • My First Kwanza
      • Catch a Kiss
      • Brown
      • Baby Botanist
        …and more.

All of the books are connected in some way to the Black community while demonstrating that we are all related. For example, Brown features the reality and acceptance of people of varying skin color, while Baby Botanist is the story of a young Black farmer. The ensuing and related activities and discussion focus on equity, and awareness. After reading Brown, the children decorated a globe with cut out human figures of a variety of shades. After reading Baby Botanist, the children planted green onions and talked about farming. Hand-outs included information on Black-owned farms in the Bay area.

Parisa Kelly, owner of Starlight Montessori, was one of the first to be on board with the Preschool Reading Program. Before the program started, Ms. Kelly had been trying to extend her library of books to include more diversity. When approached by BBLM, Ms. Kelly was happy to participate. “The reader is wonderful. She really reaches the children at their level. Some people find it difficult to speak about complex issues with 3-5 year olds without talking above their level or down to them. The messages are positive, and the activities are meaningful. They put a lot of thought into the preschool reading program, and I am grateful. Plus, BBLM has donated the books they have read to us and helped me to expand my library.”

Ms. Kelly has many anecdotal stories about the children’s responses to the stories. For example, after reading Brown, the children had a lively discussion about comparing the colors of flowers in a garden to the diversity of human skin color. Then they all put their hands together and compared the varying colors. “It was so joyful!”

Stories are mirrors. And the stories read by the BBLM volunteers help our young children better see themselves in relation to the world. The books are a window into a history and culture that may be different from their own. Using this simple way of teaching and connecting, we are helping our children to better navigate the world we live in, honor other cultures, make good social choices, and to become true global citizens.

The BBLM Reading Program is entering its third year and second summer and is going strong. We are reaching a broader community that includes both Benicia and Vallejo. We are not reading to only preschoolers, but older children as well. Literacy in Solano County is of utmost importance to BBLM, and our children’s reading program is just one of many ways BBLM serves our community. If you would like to learn more about BBLM, please visit our website at beniciablacklivesmatter.weebly.com.